7 Seemingly Unproductive Actions Which Are Valuable in Leadership

Much of what a leader does can seem unproductive at times – and that is a good thing.

For someone wired for production and progress – a checklist type person – unproductive time may even seem like wasted time.

I’ll admit, even though this is in my leadership knowledge, I have to discipline myself to practice them sometimes.

Yet, every good leader I know specializes in intangible actions which don’t always produce visible, immediate results. In fact, some of these actions are often the most productive part of their work.

In order for teams to thrive, there are things which, while they may seem unproductive to some, the leader must spend time doing.

Let me share some examples from my own leadership.

Here are 7 intangible things I try to do each day:

Praying.

Did I need to share that one? And, yet I do. For my reminder and most leaders I know. Yes, even pastors need this reminder. We can get so busy making decisions, putting out fires and handling routines we fail to do the more important work – pray. What could be happening in our leadership if we spent more time praying for the work before we do the work? (That’s a sobering question.)

Disciplined thinking.

Leader, how much time do you spend just thinking? I’m not talking about daydreaming on mindless things. I’m talking about disciplined thinking about where you and your team are, where you are going, what’s working, and what’s not working. I need those times every single day. Often new ideas hit me in the shower or driving in my car, but many times new ideas are only shaped and realized when I set aside quantity time to brainstorm. Every leader at every level needs this time, but the higher a position is in the organization the more disciplined the leader must be to think.

Reading.

I don’t know why – even as I teach these principles – it has always made me feel uncomfortable when someone who works with me finds me reading a magazine or a book. I feel so unproductive. But I know the more responsibility a leader assumes the more important it is he or she be exposed to new ideas and thoughts. Leaders are readers. I don’t always get something I can immediately put into practice, but my mind is stretched and my thoughts are energized. Valuable. Gold in many cases. (I read the Bible everyday, but as a practice, I try to read one chapter a day from some book – other than the Bible.)

Investing.

Helping others succeed is what leaders do best. Sometimes leadership is as simple as believing in others more than they believe in themselves. I have to remember also, I’m into Kingdom-building, not only church building, so investing in other pastors – even those not on our team – is a part of what I have been called to do. And, it should be noted, investing is not just talking. Leaders, in my opinion, do too much of that at times. It’s also listening to others and learning from them. Whenever I meet to “invest” in some other leader I always grow personally as well.

Networking.

Some of the greatest doors of opportunity as a church have opened because of my personal networking. Honestly, this is one thing which has made Twitter valuable in leadership. It gives me quick connections with my peers. But, this is why community involvement is important to me. I build a vital network I can glean and learn from. A leader’s overall success is often directly related to the strength and size of their network.

Walking.

Several times daily, if I’m in the office, I walk through our building. I see people. They have a chance to ask me questions, interact with me, and even share a concern. It’s amazing how this action – which many times may not produce anything tangible immediately – seems to endure people to my leadership. Leaders need to be present. Visible. Even accessible to the point they can be. As an added value, the physical movement refuels my body and mind for continued productivity throughout the day.

Planning.

I saved this one for last and I almost said meeting, but meetings are very tangible actions. But, let’s be honest, meetings can also seem unproductive. I read the books and blogs about eliminating meetings – and I’m all about it when possible – but the fact is most teams have to meet occasionally and regularly to stay on pace together. The problem in my opinion isn’t the meeting as much as the meetings where nothing is accomplished. Planning may seem unproductive – even wasted – for those who are most wired for production. Many would rather do than plan to do. But, preparation, while it may seem unnecessary in the process, makes success more attainable. Some of the best leaders I know personally are military leaders. Ask them how much preparation and planning they want their teams to have before encountering the enemy. As an example of this one, rather than getting started answering emails or heading into meetings, I try to spend a few minutes every day, before the day begins, planning how I will approach the day. (This is where I build my checklist.) I leave feeling far more productive when I’ve attempted to plan my day. Interruptions will naturally come, but I’m more prepared for them when I start with a plan.

Depending on your wiring, some of these may seem unproductive. That’s especially true for me when I do take the walk or put down the book and dozens of unanswered emails staring me in the face, but successful leadership demands we spend time investing in the intangible things which make our teams better.

In which of these areas do you most need to improve as a leader?

5 “Secrets” Which Can Make You A Better Leader

When I became a leader, I had no clue what I was doing. I was a high school student and had just been elected student body president. I had served as class president and in a few other positions, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of responsibility which stretched me at that point. As president of the study body, the a senior, I quickly realized lots of students and teachers were looking to me for leadership.

What in the world does a senior in high school have to add to the field of leadership?

We were in the second year of a new school and most of the students were forced to leave their previous school to attend this one. Some went willingly, but many were reluctantly bused to a school absent of many of their friends. In my first year at the school, as a junior, I was one of the reluctant students. In my new position, I knew firsthand the need, as well as the challenge, to encourage the morale and build momentum in this new school.

(Recognizing a need is one key to being an effective leader – but I still had no clue how to accomplish this.)

Thankfully I had a seasoned leader for a principal. Mr. Huggins was a retired Army colonel who loved seeing students succeed. He became my mentor and my biggest supporter as a new leader.

(Every new leader needs someone who believes in them, mentors them, and helps them get back up when they fall.)

Through his leadership of me, I learned a few “secrets”, which helped me as student body president. I carried them with me as I entered the business world and later as I led my own businesses. I used them in an elected office.

Even today in ministry, these same “secrets” have made me a better leader. I’ve gotten lots of practice with them and they are more comfortable to me now, but they still are pillars of my understanding of what good and effective leadership looks like.

(Good leaders learn good principles and build upon them, contextualizing them for each leadership position.)

The principles started with the investment of my principal in me.

Here are 5 secrets to make you a better leader:

Letting go of power

The more you learn to delegate the better your leadership will appear to others. When you let go and let others lead, it will actually look like you’re doing more, because your team will be expanding the vision far beyond your individual capacity. Good leadership involves empowering people to carry out the vision. (You may want to read THIS POST as a test to see if you’re an empowering leader.)

Giving up control

You can’t control every outcome. Have you learned this secret yet? Some things are going to happen beyond your ability to guide them. Leaders who attempt to control stifle their team’s creativity, frustrate others on the team and limit the growth and future success of the organization. (You may want to read THIS POST about controlling leaders.)

Not always knowing the answer

If you don’t have all the answers, people will be more willing to help you find the answers. Equally true, if you try to bluff your way through leadership, pretending you don’t need input from others, your ignorance will quickly be discovered. You’ll be dismissed as a respected leader and will essentially close yourself off from gaining wisdom from others. The best leaders I know are always learning something new – many times from the people they lead.

“Wasting time” is not always wasted

Great leaders have learned spending time which other leaders may feel is unproductive usually ends up being among the most productive use of their time. (I wrote a post about this principle HERE.) Great teams laugh together, share personal life with one another, and build relationships beyond the work environment. Spend time with people, in ways which may or may not produce immediate results, and over time, you’ll find your team to be more satisfied and more productive in their work.

Bouncing attention

The more you deflect attention from yourself to others the more people will respect you. People follow confidence in a leader far more passionately than they follow arrogance. You can be confident without demanding all the attention or without receiving credit for every success of the team. Great leaders know that without the input and investment of others they would never accomplish their goals. They remain appreciative of others and consistently share the spotlight. (You may want to read the attributes of a humble leader in THIS POST.)

Those are some of my secrets in leadership. Thanks Principal Huggins! And, life, thank you for continually showing me these are true.

What secrets have you learned which make one a better leader?

What To Do When You Don’t Have Words to Say

Helping People Grieve...

I have done a few too many funerals for children when the parents are still living. Every funeral is difficult, but these are some of the hardest.

One teenager comes to mind. I went to school with his mother and his father is a dear, personal friend. He was supposed to start college the following week, but tragically died in a car accident. He was a well-loved, funny, popular boy and the funeral home was packed with people paying their respects. As you can imagine, there were hundreds of students wrestling to understand why this happened to their friend. The receiving line for the family lasted for numerous hours over a couple of days.

I remember a number of people asking me the same question as they proceeded through the line: “What should I say to the family?”

What can you say to grieving parents, family members and friends at a time like this?

In times like these, there usually are no words, which can fully bring comfort to devastated people in the initial shock of their loss. They are hurting. They are hurting with a pain whose depths most of us can never imagine.

When there aren’t words to say – say nothing if there’s nothing to say – just be there.

Of course, you’ll speak. So, tell them you’re sorry, but don’t try to make explanations. Don’t try to give them a why. Don’t try to have fancy words of wisdom.

Give them a hug – and hold them until they let go.

Cry with them – and assure them you care.

Pray for them – and do this continually after you leave their presence.

When there aren’t words to say – just be a friend.

I’m reminded of the great sufferer Job. When he had lost literally everything he had – his wealth, his family, his health – and the respect of his wife – his friends came. And, they sat with him for seven days and said nothing. 

Sometimes your presence is the greater gift in times where there are no words.

In fact, when someone you love is hurting, the presence of a friend in those initial days of grief may be more valuable than the words of a counselor, or pastor, or any other professional.

Words will come in days to come – and, then you may need the professionals to help you say the right things, but initially, just be present.

When was the last time you were in a situation where there was simply nothing to say? 

Sometimes the Leader Must Address the Elephant in the Room

As awkward as it might be...

Years ago I was serving on a team where there was a consistent idea killer. Whenever anyone on the team presented an idea, regardless of the idea’s merit, this person would shoot it down. He always saw the glass as half empty and was negative about everything.

It’s okay to have someone who asks questions to make things better. We actually should encourage these people, but this guy was a doomsayer in the room. He never saw any positive in anything – regardless of the conversation. We would be brainstorming and he would kill the momentum. Just when everyone thought we had a good plan in place, he would poke more holes in it. He never had new ideas to improve things. He simply didn’t like anyone else’s idea. It wasn’t helpful. It was actually disruptive.

As anoying as it was, leadership allowed it to continue. Everyone talked about it outside of meetings, no one respected the idea killer, and even the leader admitted it was a problem for the team. Our senior leader insisted he had counseled with this person privately, yet it never seemed to improve.

It led me to a conclusion I have selectively practiced in leadership:

Sometimes, as a leader, you have to address the “elephant in the room” – in the room.

Everyone knows it’s there.

You can’t miss an elephant.

It keeps being repeated.

You’ve handled it individually.

Nothing has changed.

It may even be getting worse.

At some point, the leader has to address the elephant in the room.

You can’t ignore the elephant. Elephants take up a lot of valuable space in the room.

While everyone is in the room, address the elephant.

You may have to call out the person causing the disruption in the presence of everyone else in the room.

Yes, it’s hard, uncomfortable, and you don’t want to do it often – and never until you have attempted to handle it privately, but it may be necessary to continue leading the team well.

If you don’t:

  • Everyone will assume this type performance is tolerated.
  • The negative actions will be copied by others.
  • Team dynamics will never be healthy.
  • Respect for the leader – with this issue and others – will diminish.

Leader, when you know in your gut it’s time – address the elephant!

You must. The best excuses won’t hide an elephant. And, elephants don’t often leave the room on their own.

Have you ever served on a team where the elephant wasn’t addressed and it negatively impacted the team?

7 FAQ’s About Visiting Church Easter Weekend

Visiting a church for the first time can be intimidating. You often don’t know what to expect. You’d love to ask, but you’re not sure who to ask or even if your question sounds silly. It’s not. Probably others have the same question as you.

Recently someone who watches our services on television said they would love to come in person, but they didn’t think they had anything appropriate to wear. It literally broke my heart to think someone wouldn’t attend because they didn’t think they had the right clothes.

But, I get their response. It would almost be easier not to visit than to wear the wrong thing. It would be the less complicated safer choice.

I’m glad, however, I was able to assure this person they didn’t need to dress to impress in our church.

It made me think some other questions people may have about visiting a church the first time. I thought of some of the more common. This post has been tweaked a couple times over the years, but actually originated in one of our lead staff meetings. Someone suggested, “Why don’t you compile a list of of the top questions people may be wondering, but haven’t asked, and write about it?” Okay, here you go.

Keep in mind, this is written for the church where I currently serve as pastor – Immanuel, but I suspect most will be true for many churches you would visit for Easter. And, I’m nearly positive about this – most pastors would prefer you ask rather than wonder and not visit at all.

So, if you don’t know, ask. Please.

Here are 7 frequently asked questions about visiting Easter weekend:

What should I wear?

At Immanuel Baptist Church, you’ll see all styles of dress. Some will wear suit and tie and dresses and hats for women. Some will wear jeans and t-shirts. We may even see shorts if the weather is warm enough. To answer your question, choose an outfit you already own, one you feel comfortable in, and join us. (No speedos please, but that’s just a personal request, otherwise, you’ll be fine. 🙂 )

What will we do? What can I expect?

We will have a fairly typical worship schedule. We will sing some songs, have a short greeting time, I’ll share a message (my intent is always to share truth, grace, and ultimately hope), and we will sing some more. We will attempt to have a blend of songs and music all ages can enjoy. And, yes, in full transparency, and in case you’re wondering, we will receive an offering. Our offerings support the full range of ministries we offer in the church, community, and around the world. You are not required, however, to participate during this time unless you choose to do so.

Will you embarrass me?

I certainly hope not. It will be a primary goal not to do so. I don’t personally like to be embarrassed when I visit somewhere new, even in a church – and I’m a pastor. Our goal is to create an environment which is comfortable for all. You WILL NOT be singled out as a visitor. We don’t make visitors stand, raise their hand, or even fill out a card if you choose not to do so. (You certainly won’t be asked to sing a solo, unless you sing really, really loud – and then you’re on your own. 🙂 )

How long will the service last?

Slightly more than an hour. I’d love to say an hour, but sometimes the service ends up being an hour and 5 or 10 minutes frequently. At the most, you’ll be with us for an hour and 15 minutes. (Walking to and from the car time and all.)

What time should I arrive?

What a great question! I’m really trying to help when I suggest you get here a few minutes early. Maybe even as many as 10 or 15 minutes early. It takes a little while to make your way through our building, especially if you have children to check into our children’s areas or this is your first time. We especially want you to find a seat where you are most comfortable (some want up close – some want in the middle – some like me if I were visiting on the back row), and you’ll feel more acclimated to the room if you have a few minutes to adjust before the service begins. We have a special Easter bulletin you can be reading while you wait for the service to start.

Do you have something for children?

Absolutely. Birth through 5th grade have their own activities designed especially for them. They will enjoy a worship experience which will engage them at their level. Of course, we don’t keep you from bringing children with you in the worship service if this is more comfortable on a first visit, but our experience is they truly do enjoy the service designed for them. Either way, we love when entire families join us Easter Sunday.

Can I only come one time? Really, for what am I signing up when I come Easter Sunday?

There’s no obligation beyond Easter Sunday. It’s a “free look”. Promise. Being honest, we do ask you to fill out a contact card and, if you do, we will follow up with you. And I hope you do. I love seeing who God brought to us as visitors. I love meeting visitors. But, even if you fill out a card, we allow you to tell us how you want to be contacted. Phone, email, social media, or visit – or none – you tell us. We won’t put any unfair pressure on you to ever come again. Being totally transparent, we hope you will. We would love if Easter triggered a desire in you to be a part of our church family, but that’s totally your call – not ours.

I hope this answers some questions of those who think about visiting our church. I’d be honored if you are our guest.

What other questions do you have? Seriously, I’d rather you asked. 

7 Things Which Have Brought Me Personal Success

Advice to young leaders

I get asked frequently by young leader what I would you attribute most to my success in business, ministry or life.

Great question. I love people who think. It takes intentionality to achieve much of the success we do in life.

My first thought when I am asked, however, is usually “What success?”.

When I look back at my life, in many ways, I see a life scarred with personal failures and setbacks. But, over the years I have learned God has blessed me greatly – much in spite and much because of my personal failures.

Let me be clear about something, one of my missions in life is to help younger leaders succeed, so this is my sole motivation for answering this question. I am still very much a work in progress, but as I reflect on where I am midway in my life and career (and approaching a little beyond midway), I can clearly point to some things which have helped me succeed personally.

Here are 7 things which have brought me personal success:

God’s grace

I can’t deny it. It’s really all grace. I do not deserve the favor I have found. His grace has been amazing in my life. And, the more I have pursued Him, allowed Him to have His will in my life, and credited all to His glory the more grace He seems to extend. He’s a generous God.

Other people

I have had so many people invest in me. Don’t misunderstand. I’ve been intentional with networking and wisdom-seeking – always having mentors in my life whom I recruited, but I’ve had great people in my corner to help me along the way. Nothing of value is done without the help of others. And, if your goal is to be a leader – there is no leadership without people.

A little luck

Honestly, I don’t believe much in luck. It IS all grace. I think God is always at work around us, and He certainly has been in my life, but sometimes we find ourselves in “the right place at the right time”. Learning how to capitalize on those times has been key for me. Seize the day and seize the moments. Every moment and every connection you make is an opportunity – and sometimes a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Purpose

I have usually known what I ultimately want to accomplish. I believe you hit more targets when you have them in site. Sometimes this has been a few months down the road or a few years down the road, but I’ve most always tried to keep some direction in front of me – as much as God will allow me to see at the time. And, you may even get it wrong, but you’ll learn from this too and find a better purpose.

Intentionality

Probably if there were one word to describe how I want to live my life it would be this one. Since I was in high school, I have intentionally pursued opportunities to accomplish where I felt God was leading me. But, I’ve been intentional in every area of my life, not just in my vocation. I think it is critical to living a balanced life (as much as we can achieve balance) and for attaining personal success.

Tenacity

I have weathered a few storms – actually, many storms. My list of failures, setbacks and disappointments is long – some I caused and some which were beyond my control. Every time, again, by God’s grace, I have gotten back up, refocused, learned valuable life principles and moved forward. The longer you dwell on the past and missed opportunities the longer you delay future success.

Commitment to help others

I believe this is huge. I genuinely love helping other people succeed. It’s been a pulling force in my life to do much of what I do. The purpose of this blog, for example, is for this reason. (I seldom look at my analytics. It doesn’t matter except in the sense I’m trying to be purposeful and intentional.) And, here’s the thing – my personal investment in others has always returned to me tenfold.

So, there’s my attempt at an answer to how I have attained any success I have.

What has gotten you where you are today?

7 Ways I Regain Focus For My Work

I’m fairly productive as a person, but the truth is, I get distracted easily and have a hard time staying focused at times. If I didn’t have notes when I was preaching, I would totally get off track. My mind wanders way too much.

Thankfully, there are a few things which help me gain focus again. Or, at least, they help prepare the conditions to keep me focused. It’s still a discipline on my part, but these things help.

7 things that help me help me regain focus:

Rest

Being well rested when I start my day helps me face the day with a clearer mind, so I can begin with focus. Getting a proper amount of sleep is crucial for me. I recently had some surgery which interrupted a healthy sleep pattern, so this one is even more important to me now. It could be a 10 minute walk or a 10 minute nap, but taking a break from what I’m doing during the day helps me better focus when I return to the work. The more tired I am the more restless my thoughts become.

Deadlines

I work better under pressure. It may seem strange, but it’s true. And, many people do. I sometimes set my own deadlines. If I put a task on my calendar or if I schedule the steps to completion, I’m more likely to discipline myself enough to meet the deadline. Checklists and calendar reminders are my friend.

Passion

If I’m passionate about a project – I mean really passionate – I’ll invest the energy and stayed focused to complete the task. This is true about most things which grab our passion. Without passion for something I give up quickly. So, if it’s something I know I have to do I often ask God to give me passion and enthusiasm. I also return to the roots of where my passion began. I review the purpose of my calling. I remind myself why I’m doing what I’m doing. (If you can’t remember there are probably bigger issues which need to be addressed in your life.)

Encouragement

It may seem petty, but sometimes one well-worded email can break a period of distraction and push me to focus on the task. It reminds me why I need to discipline myself to move forward. This is why I keep an “encouragement file”. Basically, anytime someone emails me an encouraging email I set it aside. When I need to focus better, especially when doing things I don’t enjoy as much, nothing redirects my energy any quicker than reviewing this file.

Success

Following a big “win” I’m motivated to work for another. Honestly, it’s usually a short-lived window of opportunity, but if I strike “while the iron is hot” I can better “seize the day”. This is one reason celebrating success is so important. It motivates you to focus on another moment like this one.

Exercise

I’m less disciplined, less motivated, and less content when I’m out of my exercise routine. Actually, I’m less happy overall. I recently had some health issues keeping me from exercising as much as I usually do. I could feel the drain of focus. I am having to figure out some new exercises to do. Exercise gives me the stamina to do the things I need to do.

Systems

I’m not a rule follower. I don’t like a lot of structure. However, if there is a system in place, I’m more likely to stay focused to completion. The old saying goes “if you want something repeated systematize it.” The same is true for completion. You’ll be more focused for progress if you develop a system to get you from start to finish. In fact, if someone tells me focus is a problem for them, I almost always encourage them to first look at their system of doing work first.

Do you have a problem with focus? What helps you gain focus again?

5 Reasons Your Dream Life Never Came True

Many of us start out with better dreams than we are currently living.

The fact is I talk to a lot of frustrated people in my work. I meet people frequently who are always chasing after something – trying to realize their dream – yet they never seem to catch what they are chasing.

Many times – and we are all prone to doing this occasionally – we make excuses better than we make progress.

I think there may be simple reasons some people never realize their dreams.

Here are 5 of the real reasons many dreams never come true:

People quit trying.

They gave up. They may have tried before and it didn’t work, so now they don’t try at all. Seldom is a dream – a worthy, God-given dream – realized on the first attempt or without a lot of effort. The greatest discoveries are seldom found along the path of least resistance. Dreams are realized with prayer, persistence and perseverance. The best dreams are usually achieved just past the point where average effort stops.

People aren’t willing to work hard enough.

I think sometimes we expect dreams “just to happen”, because we had the dream. But, dreams don’t happen by chance. Being lucky isn’t usually a required skill in achieving dreams. You might occasionally be “in the right place at the right time”, but those opportunities are rare. If you have a dream it will be difficult to achieve. Should I say it again? It will be difficult. There will likely be lots of long days, sleepless nights and sweat equity. Otherwise it’s not much of a dream.

People put too much hope in others and not enough confidence in themselves.

Others don’t put as much energy or thought into your dream as you do. Many people never realize a dream because they expected something from others they never agreed to do. If you want your dream to come true you will have to go for it even when others aren’t as supportive as you would like them to be.

I should not here – this doesn’t mean we discount the voices of others completely. For example, I don’t believe God calls a married couple to competing dreams. He may lay a dream on one heart before he does the other – and one person may be more adventurous than the other – but, in the end God will bring the two together on the same dream if it is His will for the couple. Sometimes we need others to help us discern what God is calling us to do and what he is not.

People have unrealistic dreams.

This may be where other people help us discern our dreams. Some dreams simply aren’t realistic. If the dream is for a trouble-free, perfect life – that’s probably not going to become a reality. Winning the lottery as a retirement plan – statistically speaking – may not be a realistic dream. Expecting your family to always be “drama free” – well, best wishes on that dream. Learning to navigate an excellent dream in the midst of a world full of sorrow is a key to discovering the greatest and most achievable dreams in life.

People devalue the dreams already realized.

This is a biggie. What if you are already “living the dream”? Right now you may not have all you want, but considering the fallen world around us many of us have pretty good lives comparatively. Sometimes contentment is our problem more than not achieving the next great dream. If we always live thinking the “grass is greener” with the “next big thing” we never fully appreciate the dreams God has already given us. In fact, I believe God may often wait to give us what’s next until we learn how to be satisfied (in Him) where He currently has allowed us to be.

I am a proponent of dreaming! I think it can be healthy for us personally and even for couples. I am more of a dreamer than my wife, but dreaming together has been a part of keeping our marriage strong over the years. We’ve loved dreaming ahead, watching, waiting, and working for what is next. Here’s to better dreaming in your world!

7 Ways to Be a Community Building Pastor

I have a theory of pastoring successfully today.

To be a kingdom building pastor you MUST be a community building pastor.

I admit “must” is a strong word – and there are few things I’m emphatic about unless they are Biblical, but I do believe in order for us to reach people today we have to get outside the walls of our church buildings. And, this means we MUST do something intentional to make it happen. The community has to know – and believe – we really do care for them.

For me, being a community builder makes sense and seems effective in pastoring a church today.

Jeremiah 29:7 greatly impacting my philosophy of ministry years ago. The people were in captivity. The government was not favorable to God. Yet, how did God command His people to respond?

And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Jeremiah 29:7

The community’s success is tied to ours. We have the hope for the world as our central teaching. The Gospel is not to be a hidden truth, but the light in the city on the highest hill. This means we must take our light into the world. And, the best way to do this is to be actively trying to make our commnities a better place to life.

So a fair question is how? How can a pastor – or ministry leader – be a community builder?

I don’t have all the ideas, but I have some suggestions.

Here are 7 ways to be a community-minded pastor:

Know key leaders

I think you should know who the leaders in the community are and know as many of them personally as possible. You may not be able to know the mayor of your city, depending on the city’s size, but could you know your local council representative? Could you know a school board member? You’ll be surprised how receptive many politicians are when constituents contact them – especially a leader who has an audience with a significant number of people. (And, if your church has a dozen people or more you have more influence than you think.)

Let me be clear, I never endorse candidates in my official capacity, but I do vote and it’s amazing when you’re active in the community how many people in your church want to know who you support.

Listen to concerns

Wherever you are, wherever you go, whatever you do in the community – whether at city hall, a school meeting or the grocery store or barbershop – listen to hear the things people are talking about around you. If you hear repeated themes you can almost guess that’s an issue on people’s minds. And, if you aren’t hearing anything simply ask. Actually, ask anyway. And, don’t hear for what you want to do or where your church is already serving. Listen with an open mind to the real concerns of people. You may have different answers than they’ve thought of before. You know how to organize people. You represent people you can organize. That’s a powerful combination when addressing community needs.

Love what they love

I’ll get disagreement to this one, but I think it’s one of the more effective ways to be a community builder. I’m specifically talking about loving the culture of the city. I’ve seen pastors bash their community online. That’s foolish in my opinion. You can talk against community concerns in a way to rally support for a cause without bashing the community.

People often feel about where they live – especially if they grew up there – the way they feel about their family. They can say bad things about them, but you better not.

And, here’s where I’ll get the most disagreement – to me, this also includes loving the traditions they love – including their local sports teams. I was visiting a church recently and the pastor joked about the local college team. He referred to the fans as “sinners”. The crowd gave a rousing disapproval – and they laughed. It was funny. I couldn’t help but wonder, however, how much more effective he could have been endearing people to his leadership if he was “on their side” rather than always blatantly rooting for an opponent. It must be genuine of course, and I’m not suggesting you drop loyalties to other teams, but ask what cause are you more loyal to supporting and how supporting it will be most effective.

I’m in the heart of the University of Kentucky Big Blue tradition. I get criticized repeatedly by my Tennessee fans as a “traitor”, but I’m telling you people like me better – and listen more – when I’m wearing Kentucky blue. God has called me to reach people in this community and I’ve discovered they love when I’m learning and embracing their unique culture and exploring and enjoying the uniqueness which is Kentucky.

When I was in a military town, the more knowledge and support I could demonstrate about military service the more our soldiers and their families seemed to endear themselves to my leadership. And, don’t misunderstand, it is absolutely genuine for me. I am intentionally trying to love the people to whom God has placed me to minister – and part of this – as I would do for any family member – is learning to love the things they love.

Learn the community

One of the best things I did when I moved to Lexington two years ago is go through the Leadership Lexington program. The following year I went through Leadership Central Kentucky. I quickly learned things I might never have known about the community. It’s amazing now how I can answer questions about things we offer in the community that people can’t answer who have lived here for years. Most communities have something like this. Often they are found connected somehow to the local Chamber of Commerce or equivalent.

You can also sign up for any local tours that the community offers. If the town is too small for anything like this, make appointments with people who are known in the community for their years of service to the community. Go prepared with questions and pick their brains about the community.

Cheryl and I volunteer at the city’s visitor center. We are doing this to give back, but also to get even more familiar with the city and what it has to offer.

Build your community network

You never know when you’re going to need it. Plus, there will always be people you may not know but people in your network will know them. I’m consistently asking people to connect me with people I should know in the community.

And, this is in all sectors of the community. Don’t limit your network to those society considers influential. I recently had one homeless person tell me of another homeless person I needed to know, because he is an influence in that segment of the community.

I am continually asked to participate in events in the community, because I’ve gained the connections and the credibility to be invited.

Serve somewhere in the community, besides your church

I think this is critical in community building, but also simply the right thing to do. As pastors, we expect people from the community to serve in the church. It’s only fair for us to give back to the community that is giving to us.

Plus, we need to lead the way so that others in the church will serve in the community also. It’s the best way to meet people who need the hope that we have to share.

I serve on several local boards – both secular and in other Christian organizations. Obviously we all have only so much time, but I have discovered these commitments are gold when it comes to gaining influence in the community.

Lead your church to be community builders

This begins with a general desire to see the people of the church investing in the community. But it won’t happen by accident. It takes the intentionality of teaching and serving by example. And, most of all it takes consistency.

This isn’t something we do in a campaign once a year. This must be a lifestyle – getting the church into the community – being community builders – so we can eventually be Kingdom builders.

As our community prospers, so will we, and, eventually, so will the Gospel.

What other suggestions do you have to be a community builder?

5 Ways I Expand My Leadership Potential

It takes an intentional effort to improve as a leader. I think the best leaders expand their influence and leadership potential by continuing to learn and grow in experience. You can read books, follow blogs and Tweets, attend conferences, and hang out with other leaders. These are all good practices to improve as a leader.

In my experience, however, my leadership influence grows the fastest when it grows through the people I’m supposed to be leading.

Let me expand that thought. 

Here are 5 ways I expand my leadership potential?

Invest in other people.

It’s amazing, but when I invest in others – they invest in me. I have had several mentoring groups or relationships where I am supposed to be the mentor, but I feel I learned as much as they did. The more I try to help others grow the more I grow.

The leader who sees him or herself as more of an instigator of growth rather than a provider of it is more likely to see the organization’s leadership expand. Invest in others and watch your leadership potential expand.

Allow someone you lead to lead.

When I get out of the way of my team amazing things happen. Now, first, I surround myself with people smarter than me about their area of expertise, but they make my leadership better. I may even get credit for the overall success of the team, but I’m quick to admit I couldn’t have done it without them. And, that is because I couldn’t.

Great organizations have a plurality of leadership. 

Recruit other ideas.

I’ve learned people have better ideas than me – a lot better ideas. Actually, I’m an idea guy. I have lots of them. But, if the team is bigger than one – there’s always one more idea to consider. I’m a better leader – with more potential – when I open the important task of idea generation to more people than me.

Brainstorming should be a regular and promoted part of every leader’s agenda. 

Celebrate another team member’s success.

When I hog the stage – or the recognition – I limit other people’s willingness to contribute to the success of our team. When I share the lime-light I expand my own capacity as a leader – and everyone wins.

Every leader should be a cheerleader. 

Embrace other people’s decisions.

This is more than allowing ideas. It’s giving people a voice in your vision. One of the most dangerous things I’ve seen a leader do is to build an atmosphere of elitism, where no one else is welcome at the table of decision-making. When a leader values a range of thoughts and opinions it makes people feel valued and expands the leadership base of the senior leader and the entire team.

Don’t hold too closely to how your vision is implemented. You can hold on to vision, without mandating the way it gets realized. 

As a team improves, so improves the leader.

The best leaders I know understand when the people they lead are growing in their leadership, it spills over into their personal leadership potential.
When others who are following a leader grow in their leadership capacity and influence, the senior leader’s capacity and influence increases. It truly is one of the win/win scenarios of leadership.